Seven years ago on the north side of Sydney, a now-famous craft brewery called 4 Pines opened near the beach at Manly, one of Australia’s capitals of surfing culture.
On the south of the city, last year, the Coogee Pavilion was sold to Justin Hemmes’ Merivale group. And earlier this year, Merivale bought one of Sydney’s most famous Sunday afternoon layabout venues, the Newport Arms hotel.
Even a decade ago, surfers used to get around in a Holden Sandman, a combi, or some kind of station wagon. Now you’ll see them with SUVs and souped-up utes. They used to drink tinnies of Carlton and VB with fish and chips. Now it’s a craft beer and a pulled pork sandwich with sriracha sauce.
It’s all part of the surf culture becoming mainstream, losing its rough edges and pretentions of rebelliousness. The prime minister and the NSW premier are keen surfers, for goodness sake. When politicians are chasing down some gnarly waves, you know it’s not exactly an activity on the fringes of society any more.
In the process of going mainstream, beach culture has gone upmarket.
Quiksilver and Billabong have, arguably, missed the memo on the transformation. They would dispute this, but the clothing ranges have largely remained the same over the years – big branded t-shirts, long shorts and t-shirts – and besides, they are easily copied by a cheaper competitor.
Go to an Australian beach these days and you won’t see the cool kids hanging around in loose t-shirts and big baggy boardshorts.
With today’s news that Quiksilver is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy – which will hold off creditors while it seeks to carve out a path to the future – we’re seeing a once-towering Australian brand succumbing to its failure to adapt to the warning signals the market has been sending for years. Back in 2013, academic Andrew Warren argued:
Yet, as the big three surf brands grew so did a disconnect between global commercial ambitions on the one hand, and maintaining local subcultural credibility on the other hand. Ironically commercial success has also been the source of their troubles.
The big three have lost their “cool” with young people – their core demographic. Exposed to increasingly fast fashion cycles the Big Three have been unable to move expensive, out-of-fashion clothing.
The arrival of big-name very-well funded cheap fashion alternatives in global chains like H&M and Zara have been chipping away at the street appeal of the surf brands for years.
Billabong managed to put together a rescue plan for itself with the giant asset management fund Oaktree Capital. Now it looks like Oaktree might be involved in the future of Quiksilver, too. For its sake you’d want to see it work, but the current problems are an age-old story in the business world: fame, global expansion, and huge profits ensure nothing in terms of long-term survival.
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